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The Poetics of Ruins in Renaissance Literature$
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Andrew Hui

Print publication date: 2017

Print ISBN-13: 9780823273355

Published to Fordham Scholarship Online: September 2017

DOI: 10.5422/fordham/9780823273355.001.0001

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Petrarch’s Vestigia and the Presence of Absence

Petrarch’s Vestigia and the Presence of Absence

(p.89) Chapter 3 Petrarch’s Vestigia and the Presence of Absence
The Poetics of Ruins in Renaissance Literature

Andrew Hui

Fordham University Press

Any study of Renaissance ruins must begin with Petrarch, for he was one of the first thinkers to recognize that the signs of antiquity were scattered, dispersed, mutilated, which necessitated their reconstruction and renovation. This chapter argues that Petrarch’s existential encounter with the past can be conceived of as an investigation, a search for vestigia. The poetics of ruins for Petrarch is one in which his reflection on the ruins of Rome broadens into a meditation of lost time; this discourse then prompts him to compose fragmentary works that attempt to recollect his scattered self. I give a brief semantic history of vestigium; it explores Petrarch’s search for Laura’s footprints in Rerum vulgarium fragmenta as guided by a dissembling imitation of Dante’s work; in his epic, the Africa, Rome as a city is textualized and made whole through a careful reworking of its predecessors, Aeneid and Pharsalia; there is a kinship between contemplating ruins and writing letters in Petrarch’s epistles, which are modeled after Cicero’s. The chapter finally offers some thoughts on the relationship between gathering the fragments of Petrarch’s self in the Secretum and collecting the fragments of ancient manuscripts in his epistolary collection.

Keywords:   Africa, Canzoniere, Lucan, Petrarch, Petrarchism, Rerum vulgarium fragmenta, Rime Sparse, Secretum, Vestigia

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